New Japan Pro Wrestling
NJPW Road To Wrestling Dontaku
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo Japan
Manabu Nakanishi & Tiger Mask & Ryusuke Taguchi def. Roppongi Vice & Gedo
Gedo sticks his mug inches from the camera and screams “World famous Roppongi Vice in the hoooouuusssse!”. Romero is wearing his Black Tiger mask to troll Tiger Mask, which is always fun. I go back and forth on Roppongi. Maybe it’s because they remind me of Forever Hooligans, whose routine got old fast. I like both guys individually (in fact, I’m a huge fan of Romero, who I think is pretty great), but sometimes I feel like Trent works a little too ironically for New Japan. Other times, when I’m not being such a stuffy puro elitist, his act comes off like a lot of fun. I enjoyed their title win at Invasion Attack, so for right now anyway, I’m Team Roppongi.
In many ways, this was the perfect opener. The match meant nothing, with no feuds and no stakes involved, so everyone was just goofing and having some fun out there. Even Nakanishi was fun here, which is actually no surprise, as the old school All Japan old guy comedy opener would probably be his best role right now. This was one of those no commentary shows with VERY audible in ring banter, which is perfect for these kinds of matches, especially when guys who never shut up like Gedo and Romero are involved. Gedo is the most charming abuser of profanity you’ll ever encounter. The goofing didn’t go far enough to delve into eye roll territory, but was just enough to keep you smiling and produce a few laughs. This was a shit ton of fun, so I’m overrating this, and if you don’t like it, too bad. This is the opener template every booker should follow. ***1/4
Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) def. David Finlay & Jay White
We now know that White will be headed on excursion later this year, spending the majority of his time in ROH. Good for him, good for ROH, and good for us. Mystery still surrounds the fate of Finlay, who noted that he would be in Japan “until May” some months back on Twitter. Nobody is quite sure what that means. Excursion? Vacation? Leaving the promotion? Has anyone thought to ask him? I am an internationally acclaimed broadcast journalist as heard on BBC Radio, so perhaps I should be the one to get to the bottom of this.
What a match this was. You have Great Bash Heel in a tune up of sorts, getting ready for their tag title rematch at Dontaku in what should be a layup against a couple of young lions. These are not your typical lions though, both ready for bigger and better things, and they have some fight. This was hard hitting and way more competitive than you would think, with White in particular taking the fight to the vets and showing a nasty edge. The lions eventually fell, with Finlay taking the fall, but to me the story here was White, who with his long win streak vs Finaly, and on the heels of his tremendous underdog performance against Kenny Omega, took it right to the veteran stars and even got into a sassy shouting match with Makabe after the bout. There are plans for this man. As for Finlay, who knows? The mystery still abounds. This was one hell of a match. It’s not that the vets looked weak, the young guys just looked strong. ***
Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) def. Captain New Japan & Juice Robinson
Straight from the mouth of Tama Tonga, his brother’s name is “Tanga Loa”, not Tonga Loa, not Tonga Roa, not anything else.
@ShakeThemRopes Tanga Loa
— theBadBoy_TamaTonga (@Tama_Tonga) April 18, 2016
This was Dontaku tag title match tune up number two, but unlike the previous match, this was a squash. A squash was fine here, as GOD is at a point in their development where looking as strong as possible is important, and Captain New Japan (who took a looooong southern tag style beating and also ate the fall) is someone who does not require any sort of protection (or the Jay White subtle build in defeat) at all. I thought Juice was good here, begging and pleading for the Captain to crawl to the corner, and when he finally did, Juice was excellent bringing energy to the hot tag. Still, hardly a sweat broken by the champions, which was the correct structure here. GOD’s post match beatdown was broken up by GBH, in a little teaser for Dontaku. **
Yuji Nagata & Jushin Thunder Liger def. Katsuyori Shibata & KUSHIDA
I’m going to nit pick here and my bias for Satoshi Kojima will probably come through, but it still annoys me that as Shibata runs through the Dads, that Tenzan was given the Invasion Attack spot while Kojima was relegated to the house show. I’ve got no problem with the feud climaxing with Nagata, and while I understand the argument that Tenzan is slightly bigger draw than Kojima, I don’t think the NEVER match was in a position to draw at Invasion Attack anyway. The Shibata/Kojima match was pretty great, and it’s a shame less people ended up seeing it.
Everyone is pretty hyped for KUSHIDA vs Liger at Dontaku, and for good reason. The match should rock (and they did some great work together here as a teaser), and it will serve as a symbolic and legacy building win to help solidify what will likely be KUSHIDA’s signature junior title reign. After all of the fuss over KUSHIDA’s first (accidental) and second (first non accidental) reigns being cut short, at the end of the day it ended up mattering very little, as I tried to tell everyone that it wouldn’t. His “real” and definitive reign was given the Wrestle Kingdom crowning treatment, and is turning into one hell of a great title run. People should listen to me more, because despite my inflated my ego, my instincts are top notch, man (now watch him lose to Liger next week).
Besides KUSHIDA and Liger being great together, this had all sorts of great intensity between Shibata and Nagata. Shibata is the best at being a bully troll, bopping Nagata on the head like a high school senior condescendingly bullying a freshman to start the match, and then cheap shot attacking him after. If you don’t think Nagata is going to step up and deliver big with Shibata at Dontaku, you’re nuts. Liger’s backslide win over KUSHIDA drew shock from the crowd, but was the obvious and proper finish. This should shock no one, but the ageless Liger not only keeps working at an elite level, but he came off like an absolute star and real threat to KUSHIDA. ***1/4
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Michael Elgin & Yoshitatsu (c) def. Bullet Club (Kenny Omega & Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi)
The NEVER trios titles are great, and don’t let anyone tell you different. The argument that the titles change hands too often completely misses the point of what they’re supposed to be. Not all titles need to be protected like the NWA World Title circa 1972. First off, they’re firmly the seventh most important titles in the pecking order. SEVENTH. They’re defended on nearly every major show and just about every Korakuen show, which along with the “Openweight” designation adds to the “anyone, anywhere” feel, so unlike the other titles in New Japan, there is no rigid system of challenger building or slow build towards the matches. It’s next man (well, three men) up, the matches are wild and a ton of fun, and it gives the mid card some extra juice. If you want to whine about these belts go right ahead, but I’ll take these fun matches any day over slogging through another mundane 8-man mid card match that nobody cares about (including the wrestlers).
The story here was the continued rise of #BigMike (copyright us) Elgin, who was over like crazy and had some straight up fire exchanges with Omega, who along with everything else he does at an Elite level, is now gaining a rep for making everyone he works with look like a million bucks. Yujiro served his purpose here, throwing a scare in to people when he used a low blow on Elgin (Korakuen seemed to buy that as the finish, and read the above paragraph is you want to know why), but Elgin recovered, hit the buckle bomb/powerbomb combo, and the good guys retained the belts, setting up the expected defense vs The Elite at Dontaku.
The jury is out on Yoshitatsu’s Triple H gimmick (I refuse to say “cosplay”, which is a word that creeps me out and conjures up images of weeaboos dressed as furries sticking their wieners through gloryholes while watching Sailor Moon or whatever the fuck). I can’t decide if it’s humor missing the mark, a cringy “take that” statement missing the mark, or just plain missing the mark. But it’s missing the mark. ***
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & SANADA & EVIL & BUSHI)
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI)
I love a good elimination match, especially when they take an otherwise predictable outcome (YOSHI-HASHI loses) and flip a match on its head. New Japan elimination matches are extra fun, because you get the added drama of apron spots due of the additional over the top elimination rules. This also protects the top guys from doing outright jobs, while still allowing them to lose and keeping things totally unpredictable.
This took F-O-R-E-V-E-R to get to the first elimination, but it was hot after that. Naito casually hopped off the apron instead of bashing skulls with Ishii, and was the first man out. EVIL then blindsided Ishii, knocking him to the floor to eliminate him. This led to a great sequence where Goto basically destroyed EVIL, murdering him with everything in his arsenal and tossing him from the ring like a sack of garbage. BUSHI’s dropkick wasn’t strong enough to knock Goto from the apron, but mist to the eyes finished the job. Cool spot! SANADA dropkicked Okada to the floor to eliminate him, leaving YOSHI-HASHI, who always seems to do well in these things, alone with BUSHI & SANADA. After BUSHI was eliminated, SANADA and Y-H tore the house down before SANADA finished him with the dragon sleeper. SANADA is your sole survivor, and he’ll take on Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, and Tito Santana later tonight (I may have used this joke before, but I can’t remember, so here we are, enjoy it again). LIdJ beat everybody up in the post match, leaving CHAOS bodies laying all over the ring with ink all over their faces. ***1/4
What a hot little show this was! I noted earlier in the year that Korakuen was back, and shows like this solidify that point. After a year of New Japan basically dropping trou, squatting down, and taking big steaming bowel movements on the hardcore Korakuen faithful, 2016 has been a needed return to the days of the fun, energetic atmosphere that the cathedral of Japanese graps deserves. Good on you, New Japan.